Metropolitan Opera Unveils Latest Hi-Tech Robot Initiative.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
by Paul J. Pelkonen
|Introducing the Met's new concertmaster, Toyota's Cyrex-5.|
The Metropolitan Opera continues to push new technological boundaries with its new staging of Wagner's Ring. Its latest investment: robot musicians.
In a press conference this morning, the opera company announced that for Saturday's Met Live in HD broadcast performance of Siegfried, the third opera in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, the world-class Metropolitan Opera Orchestra would be replaced by robots. Fabio Luisi is still scheduled to conduct.
The machines in question are state-of-the-art Japan-made Cyberdyne Mark IV X-5000 robots. The new robot orchestra is an untested technology, but Met representatives believe that the gizmos will work well in the hi-tech environment of the Met's new Ring. The mechanical ensemble doubles the cost of the Met's multi-million dollar production, which has been plagued by malfunctions since the premiere of Das Rheingold in 2010.
"At the Met, we are always trying out exciting new technology" said Cyberdyne Systems Inc. representative Markus Wroboteaux. "The Met's new robot musicians are part of the company's current initiative to present family-friendly entertainments that synergize appropriately with our multi-media efforts.
He added: "It's much better than boring old opera."
Each robot comes with its own Mark IV operating system, a plastic instrument, and a laser-guided targeting system. Orchestra scores must be rewritten in the COBOL programming language, and then fed by a daisy-wheel system into the back of each robot's head. The copy-work will be done by the Met librarians, who are expected to work 'round the clock converting Wagner's complex music into machine language.
"We're very excited about this." said Mr. Wroboteaux. "They play with great precision. And best of all, they'll work well with the Machine set, which is going to used in 2012 for every Met production, not just the Ring."
The pristine white robots arrived by truck at Lincoln Center late Tuesday night, following the latest malfunction of the Ring Cycle set. Met stage crew members spent the night unwrapping and setting up the new orchestra in the Met pit.
"Those things make me nervous," a stagehand said. "I'm sure they sound great, but why do they all have extra arms with laser weapons?"
At $750,000 each, the 150 robots are expected to take a hefty bite out of the Met's operating budget. To compensate for the disparity, the robots will be hired out in the summer as a security force in Lincoln Center Plaza. Cyberdyne Systems Inc. has also made hefty donations to the Met's coffers in recent months, to produce a new opera directed by James Cameron, The Passion of John Connor.
The Cyberdyne X-5000s were ordered in response to complaints from Met Orchestra members about the Machine set and the amount of noise that it makes during the Act III transformation in Siegfried. "We want everything perfect for Saturday's telecast," said Met Live in HD director Hy Proglo. "And we don't want any carbon-based musicians making unnecessary noise while the cameras are rolling."
In a statement, Met press officer Peter Paul Mounds revealed that the robot initiative had been considered since the Met's summer negotiations with Local 802, the union representing the Met's human orchestra. "Thanks to superior technology, we finally have the upper hand," Mr. Mounds said.